I understand the power of trees, and how much their super/natural presence can bring comfort, solace, and a great sense of tradition and ancestral spirit. When I lived and worked on the campus of the University of the Philippines at Laguna, Los Banos, Luxon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, I was grateful for the various tropical trees that graced my house in the Villegas Compound on Silangan Street. Decades later, when I returned there with my family, I was saddened to see a lot of those majestic trees missing; they were cut down, beloved landmarks and natural shade were gone, it was like losing old friends. My father-in-law, Dr Valentine Villegas, kept begging them to not fell his ‘friends’, but to no avail.
This is why I understand the loss of Tolkien’s black pine tree (Oxford Today, Michaelmas 2014, p. 12, and at OT Online here and here) in the University’s Botanic Garden. This tree is like the autograph tree – signed by the likes of William Butler Yeats and Lady Gregory – near Gort, County Galway, Eire; full of literary allusion and priceless heritage.
In homage to such trees, I would like to quote Oxonian Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, who loved not only the spires of Oxford, but his
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandered-weed-winding-bank.